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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Overview of asthma in adults


In an emergency, call an ambulance by dialling 111. For information about what to do next, see Asthma emergency.

Illustration showing an asthmatic airway with an inflamed and thickened wall and a asthmatic airway during an asthma attack with an inflamed wall and tightened muscles.When you have asthma, the small airways in your lungs are sensitive. This causes inflammation, which causes the airways to partially close up, swell inside and make more mucus (sputum or phlegm) than usual. This makes it hard to breathe in and even harder to breathe out.

Asthma is common in New Zealand and it can start at any age. We do not know the exact cause of asthma. But it's associated with allergies and it runs in families.

Symptoms of asthma may be triggered by something in the environment or something that you do.

Common triggers include:

Symptoms of asthma

Symptoms include:

Diagnosing asthma

Your GP may be able to tell if you have asthma by asking you about your symptoms and listening to your chest.

Your doctor may give you a peak flow meter to take home with you. You can use it to measure yourself at various times during the day over a period of time.

See the Peak flow and symptom diary booklet from the Asthma Foundation for peak flow diaries and graph sheets that you can print. The booklet also has instructions for using your peak flow meter.

Spirometry is a more detailed look at how well your lungs are working. it involves simply breathing into a machine usually before and after using an inhaler.

A chest X-ray is not usually necessary to diagnose asthma, but your doctor may arrange one to rule out other conditions.

Treating asthma

Most people with asthma can control their symptoms with the right treatment, usually inhalers. It's important to use your inhaler as your doctor tells you. It's also important to follow your action plan or seek medical advice if your asthma gets worse.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed June 2021.


Page reference: 374063

Review key: HIASA-39947